The Delhi High Court on Friday said “there can’t be any pre-censorship” of public advertisements and sought the city government’s response on whether the term “political” can be removed from its guidelines for displaying ads on public service vehicles.
“There can’t be any pre-censorship,” a bench of justices B D Ahmed and Vibhu Bakhru observed while seeking response of Delhi government on a plea by an auto union which raised objection against the guidelines which do not permit display of political advertisements on public service vehicles (PSVs).
The court directed the government to file its reply on three different objections raised by the auto union, which also sought setting aside of the guidelines issued by the department and approved by Lt Governor Najeeb Jung on May 19.
On August 1, the Delhi government had placed its latest guidelines for display of advertisements on PSVs, according to which any advertisement containing political, ethnic, religious or sectarian text will not be permitted.
It specified that the vehicle owner needed to obtain an approval from municipal authorities before publishing or displaying any political advertisements on PSVs.
“Advertisements cannot be displayed without approval from municipal bodies and are allowed only for vehicles having GPS/GPRS systems,”the guidelines said.
The bench, however, questioned the Delhi government’s step to allow advertisements only for auto rickshaws having GPS/GPRS systems and pre-censorship of advertisements by civic bodies.
It also suggested to the government that it can remove the word “political” from the guidelines. Delhi government’s standing counsel Zubeda Begum said she will take instructions and file a detailed response on the issue.
During the hearing, the bench noted that the government can’t stop them (autorickshaws) from putting up advertisements as there was a stay order of the court on the government’s decision barring autos from putting advertisements.
“As of today they (autos) can advertise freely because of the stay order,” the court said.
The auto union, in their plea, have told the court the guidelines interfere with the right of smaller political parties to express their political views via advertisements on auto-rickshaws, etc., a much cheaper medium for expressing political speech.
They also objected to the transport department’s move to ban posters carrying any political expression, saying the order was “discriminatory” since the Motor Vehicles Act allows government to only regulate and not prohibit advertisements on vehicles.
The guidelines said approvals will not be granted if the advertisement contains “political, ethnic, religious or sectarian text”.
The auto union also sought direction to the government to allow advertisement on autorickshaws, subject to reasonable regulations as that have been framed in the case of radio taxi in Delhi.
It has sought that they be allowed to display advertisements or social messages, having political content, on their vehicles, saying the guidelines have been notified at the instance of major ruling political parties.
PSVs in Delhi include all public transport options from rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, taxis, school buses and buses run by contractors or Delhi Transport Corporation.
In June last year, the then government had banned advertisements on PSVs after auto-rickshaws started sporting Aam Aadmi Party posters in the run-up to the Delhi elections.
Thereafter, the high court had stayed the Delhi government’s ban. Subsequently, in May, the city government had informed the court that it is in the process of finalising the general guidelines for allowing advertisements on public service vehicles and the same is under submission for approval of the LG.